Hillsborough Inquiry Not Pursued Because Of New Labour's Close Links To Murdoch, Andy Burnham Suggests

File photo dated 24/8/2014 of would-be party leader Andy Burnham who said that Labour should run its own Yes campaign for the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European Union, as he set out his stall on Europe.
File photo dated 24/8/2014 of would-be party leader Andy Burnham who said that Labour should run its own Yes campaign for the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European Union, as he set out his stall on Europe.
Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Tony Blair's closeness to the Murdoch press may have played a role in New Labour's failure to push for a Hillsborough inquiry, Andy Burnham has suggested.

Opening what appeared to be a new front in his war with The Sun, the Labour leadership favourite today hinted that his party's relations with News International were linked to the delays in justice for the families of the 96 Liverpool fans killed in the tragedy.

In remarks to journalists at the Parliamentary Press Gallery, Mr Burnham again refused to commit to an interview to the newspaper, pointing out that its portrayal of him had not been "overwhelmingly flattering" in recent days.

The Sun this week pilloried the Shadow Health Secretary as a "hypocrite" and "two-faced" for his refusal to engage with the paper, reprinting a photo of him in its Sun taxi during the 2010 leadership race.

Today, Mr Burnham outlined why he was making a break with the Blair era, during which the former Labour leader developed close links to Mr Murdoch and key editors such as Rebekah Brooks.

"I wouldn't get back into a situation where the Labour party and the leader of the Labour party is going on bended knee to certain newspapers, because I think in the end I think that gets you into difficulty," he said.

"And it got us to the point where a whole city was crying injustice throughout our time in government and we weren't listening. So we've got to learn the lessons and do things in the right way. And I will do things in the right way."

Asked directly if he was saying that Labour's closeness to some newspapers was one of the reasons for the failure to pursue justice on Hillsborough, he replied:

"I am saying that it seems there was a decision to leave it alone. And I don't know all of the background to all of the decision-making but in 1998 after the [Justice] Stuart-Smith inquiry, a decision was taken to draw a line under it and leave it in that position and it was better not to carry on looking into it. Events have shown it was the wrong decision."

Any suggestion that New Labour's fear of upsetting News International was linked to the delays in Hillsborough justice was vehemently denied by the Sun.

A spokesman for the newspaper told The Huffington Post UK: "The Sun has always cooperated fully with the Hillsborough Inquiry and has provided evidence and testimonies to the panel.

"Peddling this sort of nonsense conspiracy theory reflects very poorly on someone who wishes to be the next Leader of the Labour Party and the country."

The Sun has apologised five times, including on its front page, saying it is 'profoundly sorry' for its infamous 'The Truth' cover story published in 1989.

Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of the paper at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, has offered the people of Liverpool his "profuse apologies" for the front page story, which falsely alleged that drunken fans had urinated on police and pickpocketed the dead.

Last summer, Mr Burnham said it was 'right' that Ed Miliband apologised for posing with a copy of the paper, which campaigners say is still subjected to a boycott by many Liverpudlians.

Mr Burnham said he would not rule out an interview for the paper but said: "I've noticed that the coverage is not overwhelmingly flattering so we have to make our own judgements about what's the best way to get my message out."

He also joked today that if elected leader he would still play in the annual football match between Labour MPs and lobby journalists, adding: "I've got a message for anyone from the Sun who's thinking of playing: don't forget your shinpads."

Mr Miliband faced a backlash from some Labour supporters over his decision to pose with a front page of the Sun last year, and relations worsened later as Labour decided to freeze out the paper from its general election campaign.

Mr Burnham sparked a fresh row with the Sun this weekend after declaring that as leader he would not do "special favours" for newspapers that "attack me and my party".

The paper insists that it has only attacked him for his 'hypocrisy' in dealing with the paper, which has millions of Labour readers, rather than his views on Hillsborough.

The Shadow Health Secretary, who is an Everton fan, has fought for a full inquiry into Hillsborough ever since Liverpool supporters heckled him when he was Culture Secretary during a memorial service on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

He has since been praised for his work in campaigning for justice for the 96 who lost their lives in the crushing incident at the FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's football ground in 1989.